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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Epic Fail of the Day

Ten points for Atheism!


  1. Hi Adam,

    The teacher offers (in effect) the following argument:

    1) If X cannot be seen or touched, then X does not exist.
    2) God cannot be seen or touched.
    3) Therefore, God does not exist.

    How did the teacher establish the truth of the first premise?

    1. I honestly wouldn't know. The top picture was just something I found posted on Facebook. What really makes the whole thing a "fail" is the fact that it is simply a straw-man. Anyone serious about discussiing whether or not God exists would never use such a weak argument. The above fictionl response from the student is meant to show a clever response to an atheistic argument. But it's not a good argument at all. After this fictionl exchange, I believe this to be a good follow-up scenario:

      Q: Are there WAYS in which we can see our brains? Are there WAYS in which we can touch a brain? (We could touch our own brains, but obviously we would not be alive while doing so).

      A: Yes and yes.

      Q: How?

      A: X-ray machines and surgery.

      Q: Are there WAYS in which we can see God? Are there WAYS we can touch him?...

      And that is where the discussion inevitably seems to end. To this day no one has ever proposed any way in which we could see or touch God. The closest thing we have to that is the so-called "intelligent design" hypothesis. But even that does not allow us to see or feel God in any direct way. It has the potential to demonstrate that some type of God may exist, but it won't help us find him. (I'm currently working on a post on just this topic which I hope to have up soon).

      It is not merely that "X cannot be seen or touched." It is that we have no known WAY of doing this. Of course, we could one day find a way of doing this. But until then we simply have no reason at present to believe such a thing. We find ways of detecting the unseen all the time (for example, the recent discovery of dark matter's "tendrils." ) I (and virtually all other naturalists) am still waiting for a coherent, testable way God could be seen, heard, or felt. I'm always open to suggestions, but I need to hear them first.

      To give a simple answer to your question, the first premise is not wrong per se, but it is incomplete and therefore the truth of it cannot be fully comprehended. My own premise:

      1)If X cannot be seen, heard, or touched in any direct way, and if no one can propose a testable WAY in which we could do this, then we have NO REASON to believe X exists.
      2) God has to this day not been seen, heard, or touched by anybody, and no one has ever propsed a testable way to do any of these things.
      3) Therefore, at present we have NO REASON to believe God exists.

  2. ID arguments are just one type of many arguments that are offered as "proofs" of some type of supernatural being. The oldest arguments go back to at least Plato, who argued for the existence of Forms (or Ideas or Archetypes) that exist independently of physical reality, and indeed are the underlying foundation of physical reality. The debate over whether Plato was right has been the basis for much of Western philosophy.

    Another philosphical issue is the question of the existence of other minds. Given that we know that other minds exist, how do we know that they exist, since we have no direct way of seeing, hearing, or touching other minds?

    1. We know our brains exist, because we have seen and touched brains. And so far the evidence indicates that it is our brains that gives us our minds (i.e. our cognitive functions).

      After having read quite a bit of literature on the subject, I find the fact that we posses brains to be very strong evidence that God does not exist. For discussions of this, see:

      The main argument of these two links is that if there really is a way that minds can exist independent of physical reality, then why would we even have physical brains in the first place? On the assumption that God exists, we know it's possible for a mind to exist without any physical body whatsoever, since God is said to exist without a physical body. Clearly God, if he exists, must have a way of exhibiting cognitive functions without the need of a physical brain. After all, he is said to exhibit temporal acts that would require cognitive functions (he decides, he creates, he designs, etc.). If that's the case, then it raises the question of why God didn't endow us with this same function. Why give us these brains? Why not just give us souls (as theists think we have)? Having a brain seems to render the soul unnecessary (and vise versa).

      However, if it is impossible for us to exist without physical brains, then it logically follows that this is not consistent with the idea of a God. If God could not give us a way to exhibit congnitive functions as he does, it would mean that God was limited in some way, eliminating his omnipotence. But if God does not exist, it follows that we must posses some type of physical asset that God himself would logically not posses. And lo and behold, we see exactly that. A brain simply is more consistent with the idea that atheism is true, while thesim is not. Not total proof, but strong evidence leaning towards that direction.

      But to answer your question, we know that other minds exist simply because we see that other humans exist. We see other humans behave in exactly the same way relative to each other. True, no two humans are exactly the same, but humans posses the same cognitive functions. We know something is giving this to us. And at present, the evidence indicates that it can only be caused by our physical brains. We simply have no evidence it could possibly be any other way. Theists may come up with any number of excuses for why we posses brains and why God would give them to us, but these would all undoubtedly be ad hoc assumptions. But the theory that it is only our brains giving us this ability relies on no ad hoc assumptions, which leads me to confidently believe that is the correct idea.

  3. The philosophical question of how we know that other minds exist is a little more complicated than you might think. Because it is really the question, "How do I know that other minds exist?" The only mind that I really experience directly is my own mind, my own consciousness, my own thoughts, my own feelings. I do not experience anyone else's consciousness, thoughts or feelings. How do I know that other human beings have consciousness, thoughts, feelings? I cannot used inductive reasoning to reach this conclusion (e.g., I have consciousness, Adam has consciousness, Carrier has consciousness....therefore Mitt Romney probably has consciousness), because my sample size consists of only one example: me. I don't have direct experience of Adam's or Carrier's consciousness. Only my own.

    So if I can't use inductive reasoning, what form of reasoning can I use? I can use analogical reasoning: I have consciousness. Therefore, other objects that look and act like me also have consciousness. The problem with analogical reasoning is that it is so prone to failure (e.g., this red liquid tastes like strawberry soda pop, therefore all red liquids taste like strawberry soda pop).

    Saying something like, "Well everybody else has a brain, just as I do, therefore everybody else has consciousness, also," doesn't help, of course. It could be that my brain and my consciousness is the exception. How would I know?

    So the problem of other minds remains. I "know" that other minds exist, but I'm not sure how I know it. But it certainly isn't because I can touch and see them.